Here's my notes for a biblical-theological reading of Mal 4:1-6 (Hebrew 3:19-24).
- Jesus brings in the Day of the Lord, in his death, and his resurrection, and his return;
- If we trust Christ, we don't have to fear judgement on that day, but can look forward to being vindicated;
- Until that day comes, we need to live Christ-like lives, patiently enduring mockery and persecution, and waiting to be vindicated when we share in Christ's resurrection.
John the Baptist is the Elijah who precedes the Day of the Lord. The angel tells Zechariah so (Luke 1:17). John’s clothes of camel hair and leather belt look like Elijah’s (Matt 3:4; Mark 1:6; cf 2 Kings 1:8). He rejects identifying himself as Isaiah to the Pharisees’ ambassadors (John 1:21), but that’s because he only comes as Elijah to those willing to accept him (Matt 11:14). He preaches repentance and tells people to that the one coming after him will baptise in the Holy Spirit and fire – a reference to the judgment, referred to in Malachi 4, which finally demonstrates the difference between the righteous and the wicked, and faithful and the faithless. Jesus comes after John, and brings in this day of the lord that John proclaimed.
We instinctively side with the ‘good guys’ – with the ‘righteous’ – in this passage. This is not correct – we should see ourselves as the wicked who will be trampled down in the judgement (Rom 3:10-12a).
The Day of the Lord came when Jesus hung on the cross. He has taken the punishment we deserve for rejecting God, for siding with the wicked (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). He takes our curse for us (Gal 3:13). So, if we trust him, we do not have to fear being trampled in the judgement. Instead, we can look forward to being vindicated along with him – that is, sharing in his resurrection (Rom 6:5; Php 3:21; Rev 20:6).
The Day of the Lord also came in Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus is the only person who, in himself, deserves to be vindicated by God (Matt 1:11 & parallels; Heb 4:15; 10:5-10). This vindication happened in his resurrection (Acts 2:23-24; 3:15; 4:10; etc). Until that resurrection vindication, he continued to patiently love & care for sinners whom he knew would abandon him at his hour of greatest need (Matt 26:34-35; Mark 14:27-41; Luke 22:34) – that is, he entrusted himself to God’s justice, not human justice (Heb 12:2-3; 1 Peter 2:21-23).
Jesus came to fulfil the Law (Matt 5:17-18). New covenant believers (Christians!) don’t have to keep the Mosaic Law; we follow the law of love (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14). This doesn’t mean we have it easier; in fact, it’s harder for us, because we have to love as Christ loved (Eph 5:1-2), forgive as Christ forgave (Col 3:13), and in this way have a righteousness which surpasses the Pharisees and Lawyers (Matt 5:20).
Most of the time, our Godliness will not be rewarded – just like Jesus wasn’t. People will take us for granted, use & abuse us, use our good deeds to slander us (eg: 1 Cor 9: Paul had to defend himself for not taking money from the Corinthians!) and persecute us (Matt 10:24-25; John 15:18-20; 2 Tim 2:13; etc), while evil people get away with murder (2 Tim 3:13) – just like in Malachi’s day, and just like Jesus. Just like Jesus, we must wait patiently to be vindicated in the final judgment (Rom 12:19; 1 Peter 2:23b; Rev 6:10-11) while praying for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35; Rom 12:17-21; 1 Peter 2:19-25), just like Jesus did (Luke 23:34).
The Day of the Lord will come when Jesus returns. When Jesus returns, he will bring about the final discernment, the final judgment, between the righteous and the wicked (Rev 19:11-21). Those who are vindicated in that final judgment are not good in themselves; they have trusted Christ and been forgiven, as opposed to those who have ignored him and therefore remain unforgiven (Rev 20:11-15). We need to wait patiently for that day, remembering the gospel of Christ (not the law of Moses any more – the law is fulfilled in the gospel, anyway) (2 Peter 1:12-15) and patiently bearing with the mockery that ungodly unbelievers heap upon us (2 Peter 3:1-13).